By LLOYD MARSHALL
UNTIL five months back, when I heard about a galah breeding with a cockatiel to produce a “galatiel” at Brewarrina in outback NSW (Talking Birds, July ’05), I would have bet any money that birds that hybridise would always be roughly the same size.
I would also have wagered that they would have to be members of the same family of parrots.
The hybrid shown here, which I photographed a few weeks back in an aviary near Canberra, is one that no bird keeper could ever have imagined.
It’s a cross between a male scarlet-chested parrot and a female blue princess. That’s right, a little neophema and a member of the much bigger polytelis family of parrots that includes the superb and the regent.
The average scarlet-chested parrot measures 20cm from head to tail and weighs between 37 and 44 grams. A princess parrot is twice as long at 40cm and weighs around 92 grams.
So it would be fair to say the say that the female princess was at least twice the size of its scarlet-chested mate.
This hybrid, like the Brewarrina galatiel, was bred by accident.
The aviary that housed the parent birds was around 1.5m x 2m x 1.8m high, with 10mm square heavy duty mesh.
It contained a pair of Bourke’s parrots, a pair of blue princess and two spare male scarlets.
One of the scarlets would feed any female it could find, including Bourke’s hens in the adjacent cage and the hen princess.
The birds’ owner had borrowed the male princess to pair up with the hen, but she would have nothing to do with him.
After he was returned to his owner five eggs were noticed in the L-shaped nest and when the youngster fledged it became obvious that the scarlet was the father of the hybrid bird, which was around half-way between the two in size. The scarlet really came into his own when the youngster emerged from the box and had a great time helping the blue princess to feed their baby.
Predominantly green, the hybrid has a light blue forehead, washed out pink bib and emerald flight feathers from the princess side.
The “shoulders” of the wings are bright blue and the main wing feathers are a duller green version of the striking lime green feathers found on a princess.
Although it lacks any of the bright colours of the male scarlet, the bird appeared to me to be a cock.
It is 12 months old and may yet show more colour — due to the fact that male princess parrots can take two years to attain their adult plumage.
The bird was confident in its manner, always in the thick of the action and totally up-front when it came to dealing with its aviary mates.
Joseph Forshaw’s Australian Parrots book records princess parrots crossing with superbs, regents, crimson-wings and king parrots, while the scarlet-chested is listed as having bred successfully with fellow neophemas the elegant and turquoise parrots.
After looking at the photo Talking Birds emailed to him, Mr Forshaw said he could see elements of both parents in the hybrid.
“Particularly the lime-green wing-patch resembling that of a princess, so it does appear to be a hybrid between those two species,” he said.
He said he would like to see the bird in the flesh before confirming that it is the result of breeding between a scarlet and a princess.
This new hybrid certainly puts paid to the theory that birds must be of the same family to breed successfully and it opens the door for any Australian parrot species to be mated with any other species.
Around 25 years ago I visited a breeder who had a large hen budgie with a male red-rump in a breeding cabinet and swore that the pair had produced young which had died in the nest.
I’ve heard of a rainbow lorikeet successfully breeding with a princess parrot and Mr Forshaw’s book records a rainbow breeding with a king parrot.
Talking Birds’ associate editor Bob Philpot recently took a photo of one of his male blue-cheeked rosellas mating with a female gang gang cockatoo, but he doesn’t really expect to end up with any offspring.
Video of the new hybrid can be found at www.talkingbirds.com.au and anyone interested in purchasing the bird can call the owner on 0421 614 358.